Urban Farming

09/23/2015 Posted by Vegan Power

Tall brick walls conceal a colorful garden at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., where students like Romario Bramwell, 17, harvest flowers and produce. The program is run by City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings gardens to urban areas..

/images/07172015_eastern-high-garden.jpg

School is still out for the summer, but at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., students are hard at work — outdoors.

In a garden filled with flowers and beds bursting with vegetables and herbs, nearly a dozen teenagers are harvesting vegetables for the weekend's farmers market.

Roshawn Little is going into her junior year at Eastern, and has been working in this garden for three years now. "I didn't really like bugs or dirt," Little says, thinking back to when she got started. "Well, I still don't really like bugs, but I like the dirt," she laughs. She gathers a handful of greens, yanks from the stem and pulls up a baseball-sized beet.

During the summer, Little gets paid to work Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. with City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings community gardens to schools, community centers and other places where kids gather in urban areas.

Little believes that working in the garden has taught her to try all sorts of new things — like eating different kinds of vegetables more often. And she's taken those healthy behaviors home with her. Little brings home vegetables from the garden, and she says her eating habits have encouraged her family to buy more fruits and vegetables.

/images/Supermarket-2.jpg

"We're a chubby family and we love to eat. Well, I do," she adds with a laugh. "We mainly live around liquor stores and snack stores. There aren't that many grocery stores. They're way out, and you have to drive so far" — a common problem in low-income urban areas. "It seems so pointless, when there are snack stores right there," she says.

City Blossoms is one of many groups across the country teaming up with local communities to install school gardens, like the one at Eastern, in areas with low access to fresh, healthy foods. These gardens, advocates say, are really outdoor classrooms where kids learn valuable lessons — not just about nutrition, but also about science and math, even business skills.

If They Grow It, They'll Eat It

Many studies have found that kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they help garden them. That's part of the motivating principle behind Colorado-based Denver Urban Gardens, or DUG, a school garden program that puts a heavy emphasis on having kids taste the produce they grow.

DUG has 13 garden programs at schools where more than 90 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Some of the produce that students grow then gets sold to the school cafeteria. That way, kids can recognize the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor in the lunch line. DUG has found that 73 percent of the students who work in the school garden reported increasing their actual consumption of produce.

Rebecca Andruszka, who works with DUG, says her friend's children will only eat vegetables from the garden at school — not from the grocery store.

"I think it's just that it seems less foreign when you're a part of the growing process," Andruska says.

A Business Education

In D.C., the kids of City Blossoms are also part of the business process: They take their produce to farmers markets.

On a recent weekend at the Aya farmers market in Southwest D.C., the kids' table is decorated with handmade signs that read "onions" and "garlic," with little pictures drawn beside them. The kids greet customers warmly, shaking their hands and calling them "sir" or "ma'am."

Roshawn Little mans the table, inviting people to try their herbed salt with bread. Working at the market has helped her practice her public speaking skills, she says. Plus, it teaches her business and money skills.

   |